Starting Sunday, fines are going up sharply for those who try to cheat their way into the high-occupancy vehicle lane — especially those who use a mannequin, doll or clothing bunched up to look like a passenger.
Drivers caught in the HOV lanes without at least one other real, live human in their vehicle will face a fine of $186.
An additional carpool-lane violation within two years could result in a fine of $336, according to legislation passed earlier this year, and subsequent infractions could result in a $686 penalty.
Drivers using a dummy, doll or other fake passenger would have to pay an additional $200 penalty on top of the fines.
“The Legislature finds that individuals who engage in contrived or repeated violations of the state’s high-occupancy vehicle lane restrictions frustrate the state’s congestion management, and justifiably incite indignation and anger among fellow transportation system users,” Senate Bill 5695 says. “The Legislature intends the escalating penalties prescribed in this act to rebuke and discourage such conduct within Washington’s transportation system.”
HOV cheating has been a perennial problem since the lanes were introduced in Western Washington in 1984, according to the State Patrol. In fact, the Patrol have said it is the No. 1 complaint from King County commuters.
“Some folks get very creative,” Guy Gill, a former State Patrol spokesman, has said. “We’ve seen mannequins, sleeping bags propped up with hats, articles of clothing, duffel bags, Halloween masks on bags. You name it, we’ve seen it.”
When Gill was a trooper with the Patrol in 2015, he tweeted a picture of a child-sized zombie doll that had been buckled into the front seat of the car by a driver who was caught solo in the HOV lane near Tacoma. Gill said he cited the driver for the HOV-lane violation, a $136 ticket, and issued a warning for not having the little passenger in a child seat.
“We got a good chuckle out of that one,” Gill said at the time.
Drivers can call 877-764-HERO to report suspected HOV cheaters. While offenders are not ticketed based on the citizen reports, the complaints alert troopers about the hot spots where they’re likely to find violators.
The program, which in 2011 logged nearly 40,000 complaints, was intended to encourage people to report violations and to reduce road rage, according to the state Department of Transportation.